Tag Archives: art

Architecture Local

Something old and something new in Southwest

While back in DC recently, I took a look around Southwest DC. There’s much to see, but not much to say. So let me highlight two interesting projects. The first is Hense Brewer’s repainting of the Friendship Baptist Church building behind the old Randall School. I think it’s a pretty cool way to wait out a development project, at the least.

The Randall School itself has been intermittently poised to become a boutique something or another since 2006, when the Corcoran and Monument Realty bought it. Neither of those institutions is doing so well right now, but Telesis and the Rubell Foundation, a major contemporary art collection,  have plans to put an apartment-museum building behind the heritage buildings, with Bing Thom designing. We shall see, yes? The other is Capitol Park Plaza, a midcentury building, which has a surprisingly warm facade for the period.

No surprise to discover that this is one of the buildings in the area designed by Chloethiel Woodard Smith. A noted local architect who happened to be a woman at the time when that raised eyebrows, Smith was quite shrewd here, registering the slab form with details that let humans comfortably occupy austere forms. First, she used tiles to enclose private porches. These balconies are massed in vertical lines at either end and staggered in the middle. This detail diminishes the monotony and overwhelming scale of the building without losing the exhilaration of long lines. The balconies also allow the roof to extend over the building envelope, reducing leaks, while keeping a strong outer volumetric edge that expresses the modernist formal fixation of a flat, uniform edge.  The pure geometry of modernist architecture can be difficult or expensive to register in actual building, so in a compromise, Smith simply implies it.

 

 

Architecture Other

Legible soundscapes

The New York Times reports on the controversies of the Shot Spotter gunshot locator. The device is a fascinating piece of technology that, in the words of James C. Scott, makes the soundscape “legible.”

In his book, The Tuning of the World, R. Murray Schaefer coined the term “soundscape” to describe the specific ambient conditions of a location. Like a landscape, soundscapes are an aspect of environment that remains relatively constant and which humans adapt to, interpret, and reshape. Schaefer interprets ambient noise as a part of the built environment. Take, for example, the way church bells were used to communicate time and call people to attention. The need to hear became a factor in medieval densification and growth required parishes to bud rather than sprawl. The information they conveyed was too important to do without. But, as we’ve needed bells less, they have shifted from signals into soundscape.

But, perhaps the newest tendency is not to tune ambient noise out, but to process it. Typically, this has been in the name of art, a way of humanizing it through aesthetic effects. Sometimes with simple analog acoustics, such as Lancaster’s Singing Ringing Tree, and other times through algorithms in Yokohama’s Tower of Winds. Both are interesting artworks, but they become still more interesting when seen as containing design choices in the form of the parameters that the artworks transform. The Tree might be more indiscriminate, but it’s aestheticization of wind is very transparent. The wind blows, you hear the howl and the tone at the same time, and one is explicitly the cause of the other.

The Tower of Winds, on the other hand, is controlled through algorithms that process the winds and noise it visualizes. It’s computerized and opaque, and you’d have to see the code to understand the process. I think it’s more beautiful, but it is also bound to the instruments that translate phenomena into machine-readable signals that are then interpreted by a program of more-or-less arbitrary signals. The process of getting from input to light relies, quite literally, on a black box. It is opaque.

So too is the ShotSpotter. It has assigned value to a particular range of frequency and timbre and understood them as probable gunshots. Software locates the source of the sound through trilateration and presents a monitor with a sound clip and a probable location cross-referenced to a GIS model. Further layers or readily processable information are included, hypothetically improving response time.

But, when legibility is so explicit, it also becomes possible to evade the mechanisms of gunfire by evading the identified sound of gunfire. An individual doesn’t have to suppress the sound, just distort it to the point that does not fit the parameters for a “gunshot.” At this point the precision of the system starts to fall apart – and it is the precision that gives police departments a time advantage over human call-in.

All this to say that how you pick parameters matters as much as how you manipulate their content. It’s hard to get criminals to agree to standards.

Other

Listen: Joanna Newsom at 6th&I

By Mehan on Flickr (cc)

I  just came back from a trip to New York, got some great reading done, and had an infrastructural safari in Manhattanville. I’ll talk about these in good time, but for now I want to continue my tradition of talking about things that happened months ago.

Back in late February, I went to see Joanna Newsom at the 6th&I Historic Synagogue, and you know, the word “awesome” is really overused these days. It was awesome. You can also read NOMOFOMO’s coverage of the event, which was actually written around the time of the concert.

In the time since then NPR covered and recorded the entire show. If you have a little over and hour, you can listen (fixed so the link works now), and for the good of your soul, you should take the time.

Now, many people find her voice to be skreetchy, generally because most people gave up after her first album, and I can’t necessarily blame them. But her voice has mellowed without losing any of the color or expressiveness that she always had. It may have gotten better, in fact. As an example, check out the album version of Inflammatory Writ, a song I used to find unlistenable:

Inflammatory Writ – Album version

And compare that to the much different version from the concert:

Inflammatory Writ – 6th&I 2010

The setlist was ’81Kingfisher, The Book of Right-On, Easy, Soft as Chalk, Inflammatory Writ, Good Intentions Paving CompanyHave One on MeYou and Me, Bess, Monkey & Bear, and she played the “bummer” of Baby Birch at the end.

Architecture Other

A Momentary Synchronization

Tower of Winds, Tokyo

I looked up from my desk this evening to see a handful of blue lights in the neatly stacked windows of the apartment building that sits across the street. Deep blue, as though the world was experiencing a collective computer crash. The color changed and I realized it was the Grammies. For a few hours, the building changed colors to reflect the shared culture of this consumerist happening.

I’m reminded of Toyo Ito’s Tower of Winds and its synesthetic translation of Tokyo’s Hubbub. And I’m reminded of my external hard drives. They have a large blue light on the front that signifies that they are on. So too do blue flickers in windows; they  indicate that the households are turned on as well.

Architecture Other

Five Things, Arranged by Size and Scope

A few found ideas.

One: First, let’s start with what’s in the room. My friend Anna at NOMOFOMO informed me of the publishing of a rather serious book about John Cage’s rather infamous piece 4’33”. The plainly titled book, it turns out, is by Kyle Gann, probably one of the most famous people ever driven off of Wikipedia. Hopefully the book will cool some of the really obnoxious commentary that trots its tired ass out whenever you mention the piece. On a related note, I was at the Smithsonian American Art Museum when some man wearing a North Face vest walked into the room with his brood and began ridiculing the works as “The Painter who Couldn’t draw curves, The Painter who Couldn’t Draw Faces, the Painter Who Didn’t Care,” repeated smugly for several minutes. Unfortunately for his smugness, we were in a gallery entitled, GRAPHIC MASTERS III. There were no paintings so … no painters either, boss.

Two: Anyway, over in my neighborhood, Richard Layman wrote a simple piece in regard to the recent efforts to build a streetcar on Wisconsin Avenue – and the consequent vicious opposition. The arguments are not that new, but he does break down the current bogeyman that guided transit will be hopelessly snarled up by obstructions. His point: it happens more often on highways, and can be minimized with design. On that note, and getting much bigger (153 comments at writing), is the thread on DCMud about the Safegate Pause.

Three: Moving out to the general idea of the neighborhood,  Kaid Benfield penned a remarkably concise and thoughtful definition of Transit-Oriented Development. He emphasizes the oriented part, making the point that it’s the way the neighborhood and buildings facilitate transit use and walkability that is most important. It’s worth a read.

Via Elemental/Mammoth
Quinta Monroy, via Elemental/Mammoth

Four: Getting a lot bigger, Mammoth covers mammothly (as they promised) the best architecture of the decade. Unlike so many lists of flashy blingitechture and navelgazing critiques of said blingitechture and excess, the list contains projects emblematic of new directions in architecture. Included is the Large Hadron Collider, cheap manifest-traditional housing, Chinese High Speed Rail, geoengineering, and using good design to recover from years of terror. After reading it, I feel like calling this next decade for Latin America.

Five: Finally, getting into centuries and abstract ideas, Kirk Savage will be doing a live chat tomorrow on Greater Washington.  Savage is the author of Monument Wars and Standing Soldiers Kneeling Slaves. The latter book is about the depiction of slavery in public art. The former traces the role of the monument in America over two hundred years as the changes played out in Washington, DC. I’m only about halfway through the book, but it is really good. He puts an impressive amount of information about monuments, memory, and architecture into a genuinely enjoyable read. I don’t have enough thoughts at the moment, but there will be more coming from it.

Until 1 PM Tuesday, you can always submit questions at this page, and I’ll let you go with some bonus Eames:

Other Russia

The Metronomicon

_prey

A Russian artist and ad man named Alexei Andreev has been publishing some distinctly surreal photography recently regarding the Moscow Sankt-Peterburg Metro. Mostly, it hints at the perpetual creepiness of a dark subway and the complex relationship one always has with it. As much as it’s preternatural eeriness, it also reflects daily life a lot more than most architectural photography of the subway. The whole collection deserves a look, but not before a late night Metro ride.

Architecture Theory Writing

Forest Glen Seminary: Into the Woods

Part one of a four-part essay exploring context, typology, and interpretation. Comments encouraged.

Classicism at its horniest

Hidden among a leafy scattering of houses and trees, Forest Glen Seminary is a jumble of vernacular buildings unlike any of the temples of boxes that define Washington. Its buildings, both magnificent and ludicrous amount to a dignified campiness that defies expectations to be one of the most profoundly interesting places encircled by the Beltway. Once constituting a women’s college when that meant a two-year Mrs. degree, the buildings are once again becoming domestic space, the more private areas cut into condos and the core of the complex, rental units. Scattered around the area, turn-of-the-century houses are being renovated and new housing by the urbanist developer EYA has just been finished. Through the site’s history, radical changes have shaped its form, but none so radical as the current shift in context. read more »

Architecture

Three interesting things

Metropolis ran an article online discussing the unorthodox business model the firm Delle Valle Bernheimer employs. They have begun integrating development into their portfolio, realizing that controlling all elements of a project essentially cuts a lot of inefficiency from the process of getting something you care about built. In addition to giving them a high degree of control in regards to design and quality, it tempered their exuberance by bringing issues of engineering, cost, budgeting, and dealing with problems into their realm, on their bottom line.  Their strategy is not new – it’s a standard practice called design-build-operate/maintain – but this is one of the first boutique architecture firms to employ it. 

But back wen DB were just getting started, a depraved genius named Zak Smith managed to produce illustrations of each page of the book Gravity’s Rainbow. Somehow, he  managed to sit down and produce 760 works of art, in multiple media, depicting pretty much everything that happens in the book, in some way or another. I haven’t had a look at the whole thing, but the sheer amount of creativity would make an edition of Thomas Pynchon’s book with these drawings a worthwhile purchase.

And also terms of good (early) works, Metropolis has nicely been hosting blog posts about Yale’s First-year house project, where they also design-build a house for a local rent-to-own program.

Other

Resolution and a little denouement

With the considerable help of Thomas Allen of 703Designs and Alexandra Silverthorne, I was able to get the bad code out and get things back to normal. It was a simple error, buried in a couple of posts, but it’s not exactly clear how it got in there. You might also be interested in Alexandra’s photography installation series, The Parks Project, which has placed photographic plaques in several parks around the city, including Fort Reno.

In the meantime, I’ve changed to a theme that displays text better and loads more quickly. I’ve also revised a number of posts for clarity:

I’ll also be updating the blogroll to be more local soon. So czech that out.

And I’ll leave you with a quotation about the New Art Institute of Chicago building, by Nicky O:

It’s hard to know how these qualities will play out amid the gloom and doom of the new economy. In some ways Mr. Piano’s refined, risk-averse architecture may be more appealing than ever. He is not out to start a revolution. His designs are about tranquillity, not conflict. The serenity of his best buildings can almost make you believe that we live in a civilized world.

A calm, comfortable building that uses modern materials in a rational, humane way. Sounds good to me.